Monday, May 23, 2011

A Great Loss

Yesterday my family and I learned that we had lost one of our own. My nephew, who was only a few years younger than I and more like a brother to me, had taken his own life. Alone in a car in some back alleyway he had ended his own suffering of a pain that none of us will ever fully understand.

Who was Brian Clay? I'm not sure that any one person knows that answer fully. Instead he chose to expose only a little bit of himself to each person that he trusted enough to have contact with as he drifted in and out of our lives. He was a good guy though, and I don't think I ever heard him speak out in anger. Even when we fought against each other earlier in life, as boys growing up close in age tend to do, we never held bad thoughts for one another. Although I always seemed to get the better of our fist fights, he always bested me on the courts; whether they were with a basketball or a tennis ball. Seeing him play sports were the times I would see that glow that he seemed to be missing in the rest of him. If only he could have dribbled a ball through life, and launched a mean serve at all those wallowing feelings inside of him. If only, if only...

Early in life things seemed to be as normal and happy as can be. He had two loving parents and a sister that he was close to, and they lived in a nice house in a new neighborhood. Nothing unusual in high school either, as he scored well in his classes and seemed destined to go on to college and live a perfect normal life. If someone were to compare us at the time, I was the one going down the wrong road and living a troubled life. Alas, things in life are not always as they appear. His parents divorced leaving his mother (my sister) heartbroken and devastated that the life they had was over. Wanting to move on in his own life, his Father grew distant and more involved with the one he started over with (** EDIT I just wanted to add that I'm not placing blame here. Relationships are very complex and I can't claim to know much about theirs. Brian never said a bad word about his father to me **). Though he always maintained a love and connection with his sister, they too seemed to drift off in their own directions.

Everything changed then. Numerous attempts at going to school always seemed to fail. At one point we were taking classes together at Riverside Community College. I was focused at that point, intent upon changing the course of my life and moving on to greater things. He seemed lost without any drive. We lived together for a short period during this time, and as I moved on to a University, he seemed to regress. At one point he got accepted to a University in Missouri, but there he only collected debts he could not repay and found himself getting deeper and deeper in a hole that he could not dig himself out of.

As my life evolved into a career and a family, he struggled to hold down a job and drifted between Riverside, Missouri, Las Vegas, and Wichita Kansas. Somewhere in the middle of all of this he tried to take his own life by ingesting a bunch of pills, but this attempt failed and it was unclear to us if he really intended it or if he was calling out in desperation for help. The family rallied around him and gave what support we could. My sister in Kansas took him in and helped him find work, but over time he slipped back into that shell and shut us all out again.

The last I heard from him was after I got back from my trip down the Lower Colorado River. Upon checking my voicemail I received an upbeat message from him telling me he was back in Missouri, working, and optimistic about getting back in school. By this point it had become a routine. Disappear for months or years without a word, then show up out of nowhere upbeat about his new plans to get everything back on track. There didn't seem to be a middle ground for Brian. Things were either at their darkest, and he never liked to speak to anyone he was close to then, or they were bright sunshiny days and everything would change with this new plan he had. He'd always apologize for not getting in touch for so long, and explain that he just didn't want to bring anyone down while he was depressed. I tried to convince him that those times are when you need the people you are close to the most, but he had his own way of looking at things and could not seem to change them.

Anyways, I called him up and we spoke for quite awhile about his new job at California Pizza Kitchen. He said he wanted to be a manager there, and that with his previous experience in restaurants that they were going to "fast track" him. I was surprised to hear that he also wanted to come out and hike the Lost Coast with me. I gave him the information and told him I had everything he would need; just get yourself here. It turns out that was the last time we would speak on the phone. I emailed him about the trip, and he got back that things were not looking so good now. Money was tight again, and he had forgotten how much he hated working as a waiter. I told him not to sweat it, that there were many other trips yet to come down the road. Had I known that time was running short I would have bought him a ticket myself, I would have driven out and gotten him; anything to stall the momentum towards the train wreck he was heading for. I guess after all the years of drifting in and out I took it for granted that someday he'd drift back in. I don't think I really knew that there was only so much wind in his sails, and that his journey was coming to an end. The signs were everywhere, but through it all I had grown deaf and blind to it. Was he calling out for help again, in his own way? I'll never know...

About a month ago I got a series of messages from concerned friends in Missouri that he had up and disappeared again. I wish I can claim to have been really concerned, but he had done this so many times. I spoke to a close friend of his who was convinced something was wrong. He had disappeared before, but never had he left money behind. It turned out he was in Kansas staying with another one of my nephews. We breathed a sigh of relief, but the danger was not gone. After staying with him a couple of weeks he left without a word. This time he would not be drifting off to somewhere else. This time he would not be calling months later with an upbeat mood and another grand plan to change his life. This time it was the end.

I didn't cry when I got that call that Brian was gone. It should not have been a surprise to me, but truth be told I was shocked. As I'm sitting here writing today a day later the tears are finally coming. The reality that he is never going to just show up in my life out of the blue again is setting in. I can't stop thinking about all the times we were together growing up. I can't stop regretting not reaching out to him more. I can't stop feeling the loss for someone I thought I had lost long ago.

Over the last 4 or 5 years Brian had started painting off and on. Here's a few of his works from his facebook page (as well as the one above). I tried to encourage his new found passion for art. I always planned to send him supplies. I regret not doing that tremendously. He had mentioned having some newer ones last time I spoke to him, but I never got to see them.

We'll miss you Brian!

*** Edit to Add ***

Learning more about Brian's death, I discovered that he took his life using a mixture of common household chemicals to create Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) fumes. This is known as chemical suicide or detergent suicide and apparently it's becoming more popular in the United States after originating in Japan in 2007, spread mostly by websites on the internet.

I realized that in this day in age we're all connected online, and that people looking to take their own lives, as well as those coping with loved ones that have already taken their lives, might find there way across this posting. It is for this reason that I am adding on to this post directed more at them then towards myself and others who knew Brian.

As my good friend Rob commented below, depression is not a weakness, but rather a sickness in the brain. We should blame those with depression no more than we would blame those that have cancer. It is not their fault, and it is not something that can be simply turned off. Much like cancer it is something that must be treated, and those battling against it have no guarantee that they will win. Likewise those suffering from depression should feel no shame for it. You do not choose to have depression, and I have as much respect for those battling it as those battling the deadliest forms of cancer. Just know this; you are not alone and there are good people out there that care and will help you in any way that they can. Never give up hope, for no matter how bad things seem there is always a way out. See a doctor, speak with a counselor, take advantage of your support group of friends and family. Battle against it as you would battle against a disease, for that is what it is.

Here are some resources for those battling with this condition:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
Suicide Prevention Resource Center:

Here are some resources for those who have lost a loved one to this disease:

Connect with other parents that have lost a child:
For Suicide Survivors:

My hope goes out to all those battling depression, and my heart goes out to all those who have lost a loved one to this disease.


nathan orton said...

I really enjoyed reading this Randy. Brian will be missed greatly ..

Tim Hoffman said...

Thanks for posting.

I too have many regrets. I always knew he was searching. I wish I had done more to guide him towards a goal or passion. Or to simply tell him I loved him as a brother.

I took for granted him coming to visit us in wichita. I figured he'd come again in a few months or so.

I was able to spend the last month and a half of his life with him. At first he was just going to stay for the weekend, than it was gonna just be for one more week, time just kept going by. We no longer asked when he planned to head back to St. Louis. We (Nathen, Nick and I) didn't mind him staying on our couch. He wasn't a burden.

He came to us on March 16th I believe. Then finally on Sunday the 1st, as him and I were watching the news that Osama had been killed, he mentioned to me that he was going to leave soon.

I believe it was the next morning (monday the 2nd) or maybe it was wednesday (the 4th), I woke up early for work, as I walked out the door I turned to him on the couch. He was still lying around with very little incentive to get up that early. I told him goodbye, and "Will you be coming back anytime soon?" His eyes went up to the ceiling, which was a common occurrence, then half-smiled, "yea I'll be back around" with a slight nod.

I could tell that he was just saying that to please me. I told myself this will be the last time I see in for about a year probably. Then I walked out of his life.

He left that day.

Only to be heard about nearly 3 weeks later :(

I wish I had known that he'd tried to end it all once before. I wish I had reached out to him and had invited him to church. I wish i could have shown him love and acceptance a little more.

I wish he was still sleeping on my couch.

AlwaysJanuary said...

Thanks Nate, and thanks to you Tim, for your insight. I knew Brian his entire life, but there are so many gaps that the picture is but a fuzzy blur. It's always nice to get a few more pieces to the puzzle.

When I was younger I used to go for long walks or bike rides, often in the middle of the night when I could not sleep because something was bothering me. There's just something about being in motion that settles your mind, as if with every step, or pedal, or mile all your worries grow further away. I think Brian's drifting from place to place was an extension of this.

I took a walk today to get away from work, and towards the end I became acutely aware of the breeze blowing in my face. I imagine this sensation to be something that Brian would have liked very much, and for a moment I felt a piece of him drifting by again, cheery and optimistic about his grand new journey. Forever in motion and never stopping to let the disappointment of reality catch up.

Pauline Baker said...

Uncle Phillip and I were so very sorry to hear of Brian's death.But- knowing about his earlier attempt to end his life, we were not surprised. We thought things had gotten better for him when he was at Marilyn's.Thank you for such a nice tribute to him! Love, Aunt Pauline

Jessica Holden said...

Oh, Randy, I am so sorry for your loss... It's funny--somehow I lost track of your blog a few months ago, and only came across it again today, of all days. I too lost someone due to depression; in her case she turned to alcoholism until she finally had a stroke that she was unable to heal from. My heart is with you... (mama2em, from flickr)

Rob said...

I am without words - I am sorry for your loss at the hands of a sickness that is immensely difficult to struggle with. The world sees depression as a weakness when it is just your brain chemistry playing tricks on you. It is one of those things that is extremely hard to ever ask for help for.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I will always be thankful for Brian introducing you and I. If you need to talk, let me know.

Cindy Hight said...

So sorry to hear of Brian's death. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.
Roger and Cindy Hight

AlwaysJanuary said...

Thank you so much for all of your support.

I wonder if Brian would have been surprised at the hundreds of views this entry had in a single day.

It makes me smile to know he had so many good friends that loved him, even if in his sickness he did not realize the enormity of that love (or perhaps he did and that was the one thing that kept him going all these years that he suffered).

Sabra Madonna said...

Randy you are blessed with a beautiful gift of expression. Reading your entries has brought tears to my eyes as my heart hurts for you and your family. Please you have my deepest sympathies.

Sarah Mancebo said...

Randy, thank you so much for posting this! It really meant a lot to me to read every word you had to say! I miss Brian deeply and feel like I should have tried harder to be there for him. We only really talked when the family got together or on Facebook. I offered him a place to stay with me whenever he needed, i just wish I would have tried harder. i have been praying for him every day that he can now be in peace. i want that for him so badly! Please keep him in your prayers!

Melinda said...

Randy thank you for such a moving tribute. Yes Brian had major depression and he tried to battle it himself for years. I hope anyone else who thinks about taking their life will read your words. Medication might have helped Brian to have a happier life. I also have a hole in my heart. I tried to love and protect him.

Melinda Parry (Brian's Mom) said...

AT BAYSIDE CHURCH 8211 SIERRA COLLEGE BLVD. SUITE 418, ROSEVILLE, CA 95661 Anyone wishing to send flowers, a card or prayers can do so. Flowers must be delivered before 9 AM and there are no friday delivery of flowers. I hope any family in California or any state will come to celebrate Brian with us. God Bless Melinda Parry (Clay)

rivas said...

randy, this is morelia. i just saw this, as i was visiting your blog after many months of being out of touch (w/you online). just sending you my love here. i've lost two friends to depression, (2002, and 2003), which, like you say, is more like a terminal illness... in addition to sending love your way, i also just want to say thank you for such a thoughtful post.